Using the scientific principles (make an observation, form a question, form a hypothesis, conduct an experiment – or more -, analyse data and draw a conclusion), Ben Ambridge builds a strong case for the intelligence and even conscience of fellow species in his book Are you smarter then a chimpanzee? . What author suggests is that “by exploring the similarities and differences between humans and other animals, we can begin to understand when and how our abilities, our likes and dislikes, and even our foibles and mental blind spots arouse in the course of evolution“. Because according to Darwin: “when it comes to the differences between humans and other animals, everything is relative and everything is a relative: we are all part of one big family“.
But since animals show remarkable ability to understands words and even phrases, to count or even to communicate specific wishes through sign language or body movements – as proved through specific experiments, Ben Ambridge explains why can’t we talk to the animals: “Research conducted by Mike Tomasello, who has studied language learning in both children and chimpanzees, suggests that what non-human species just don’t get is that language is fundamentally co-operative, almost altruistic, in nature. Doing something for the benefit of someone else, even if it involves no personal cost, is completely alien to chimpanzees … they simply haven’t evolved in such a way as to be capable of considering the altruistic option in the first place. Virtually all of the mankind’s greatest achievements, such as science, governments and the arts, are based fundamentally on co-operation. If humans are qualitatively different from other animal species – and throughout the book author shows that this is far from clear that this is the case – then an inclination to co-operation (at large scale – think at entire countries, monetary system and/or organizations -) is perhaps the best candidate for that special something that makes us unique.”
Ben Ambridge – Are you smarter then a chimpanzee?
One step further into analysis, moving from comparing other species to people to comparing (still existing) traditional societies of hunter-gatherers to modern humans, to separate what is nature-influenced into our today behavior and what is rather socially and culturally biased, is offered by Jareed Diamond in his highly recommended book The World until Yesterday. You will find out also how our modern life style influences our health, how we approach competition and co-operation in societies by comparison with native tribes, how the justice systems evolved to what it is today and sometimes on social progress made, like the treatment for elderly people. This book answers to a lot of WHYs on our modern life and society, helps us understand where we come from and what we have lost or gained on the way!
Weather our unique large-scale co-operation ability is enough to save us today from choking into our own smoke, or save the planet’s biodiversity for our own sake, remains to be seen. Today countries are fully integrated into a capitalistic system that externalizes costs to nature for its short-term benefits, but are more divided then ever on what should be the longer-term priorities of humanity and future generations on this planet and agree on the way forward. Do not count on the appearance of well-being and scientific progress to date, humans still have a lot to proof, after all we have only been around for 3 million years (counting from the moment when we left the trees), whereas other species like dinosaurs flourished for 200 million years (before being wiped out by an asteroid)…So far our ability to co-operate only came at a cost for ecosystem and its biodiversity and likely for future human generations…